Journal Record Staff Reporter
A supervisor for a manufacturing plant, news room or law firm
is a manager, not a guidance counselor. No wonder these
individuals can feel overwhelmed when faced with an employee's
alcohol, drug, financial or family problems.
In times past, when personal problems spilled over and
affected an employee's job performance, management dealt with the
situation as best it could. Perhaps the individual was fired and
given the name of a substance abuse treatment center. Or maybe
the supervisor took on the employee's problems, serving as a
shoulder to cry on and appearing to show favoritism.
Companies today are increasingly turning to employee
assistance programs to eliminate inept, inconsistent handling of
personal employee problems. The programs provide a professional
person, trained in assessing these issues, who employees can talk
to confidentially. Then the employee assistance counselor can
refer the worker where he or she can get the needed support or
Employee assistance programs are available in a range of
coverages and costs.
"Employee assistance programs improve job performance in the
long run," said Jamie Leal, who has spent more than 15 years in
drug and alcohol counseling, working with employee assistance
programs and acting as a liaison between business and industry
and the mental health and chemical dependency field.
A program can "improve employee morale and help supervisors
deal with employees who are having job performance problems," she
said. "Employee assistance programs can be used as part of the
progressive disciplinary procedure to give the employee an
opportunity to change his behavior before he loses his job."
Ultimately, employee assistance can result in savings to a
company. If performance is down due to a personal problem,
chances are the problem can be resolved through appropriate
outside resources and the company avoids having to invest in
hiring and training a new employee, said Leal, a licensed
professional counselor with a master's degree in education.
"Employee assistance programs are also very helpful because
they give managers support in the process of identifying and
working with problem employees," she said. "They're (managers)
not trained as therapists, and they can lose their perspective
sometimes when they take an employee under their wing and become
emotionally invested and over protective."
An employee assistance program doesn't change an employee's
status with the company; if he or she is already in trouble,
such issues as arriving for work promptly and behaving
courteously toward customers still must be resolved. But
depending on the need, the employee assistance professional can
steer an employee toward a private social worker for counseling,
a chemical dependency treatment program, a financial counseling
center, 12-step group or community counseling center whose fees
are on a sliding scale, Leal said.
It is advantageous for employees to have access to an employee
assistance representative, because that person can "jump-start"
them on the way to the particular kind of help they need. For
example, the representative should be aware of therapists who
specialize in certain areas, and may be able to match the
personalities of the employee and potential therapist.
Otherwise, it takes perseverance and a "weeding out" process
for an individual to find a therapist on his own, Leal said.
Employee assistance programs had their roots in alcohol abuse
problems, but a number of issues today are taking a toll on
workers. Included are workplace violence, stress, and layoffs or